Monday, 17 October 2011

Free Dumb Informaton

Some disturbing developments have come to light, the facets I think will justify two separate posts. 

On the 8th of August the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) made a Freedom Of Information request to the Department of Work and Pensions, asking in details but seeking in general how many ESA claimants Atos Healthcare had assessed since the nationwide roll-out of the Incapacity Benefit transition to Employment Support Allowance 'began in April'. They did this because they are the contractors for government welfare to work programmes, namely the Work Programme and the almost completely unpublicised Work Choice (hint: they park all the most difficult cases on this in some desperate attempt to not let the Work Programme fail as badly as Flexible New Deal did). The context is that the prime contractors have taken a lot of heat recently because they are squeezing the sub-contractors and not referring clients to them. The indication is that the prime contractors themselves aren't getting enough referrals to cover their costs through the initial referral fees, so they wanted to know why the ESA Work Related Activity Group from which many of their 'clients' will come from isn't being filled up by the 1.4 million Incapacity Benefit claimants who should now be being transferred onto ESA.

On the 23rd of September, the DWP published their response to the request. This, surprises me but will be the subject of the next post (the request failed, yet still gave the ERSA the answer they were wanting). The figure totalled 56,000 claimants assessed, although caution *must* be used as this is based on incomplete sampling according to the DWP. However, the fact that they gave the figures at all (for England, Scotland and Wales, from which the ERSA produced the nationwide total) means these are at least a partially accurate estimate. It is unclear also what the period covered is, only that it begins in February, on the 28th. I will assume that the period is from the 28th of February to the 1st of August: five full months in which 56,000 are considered to have had a Work Capability Assessment, although the DWP clarifies that this actually includes people who have only had a 'paper assessment' and even those who refused to be assessed but a recommendation was given. We have no idea how many as a proportion were actually assessed by Atos, but the ERSA takes it as given that 56,000 were. Their actual press release states:
"A recent Freedom of Information request indicated that Atos has completed only 56,000 Work Capability Assessments since the commencement of the full national roll out in April."

I am not sure why they cite April as the starting date, especially as the DWP response to them makes it clear it was February. I think they are confused because April is when they were named as preferred bidders for the Work Programme, which ironically had the April 1st (and I thought it was an April Fools joke) press release falsely claiming the Citizens Advice Bureau was going to be a sub-contractor. Perhaps they thought ESA was designed purely to meet their needs and if so, where do you think they got that impression? The Work Programme itself started in June. 

But the number they squeeze out of this matters; it's 56,000 assessments in five months, which is 11, 200 per month. That is the amount they were expecting each week, not each month after the IB-ESA transition started. They really wanted those WRAG referrals. So how has Atos been doing? Well I looked at the DWP tabulation tool for each month as far back as the ESA phase of claim data went (pitifully if you remember, the detailed data only went back as far as February 2010) and looked at those Assessment Phase claimants under 3 months, then at the 3-6 months Assessment Phase claimants for the quarterly period afterwards to see by what margin it had been reduced. The results were:

February-May 2010: 59,050
May-August 2010: 61,640
August-November 2010: 98,210
November-February 2010/11: 35,950
February-May 2011: ???? (to be published)

From the FOI request:
February-August 2011: 56,000 (with twice as many months, and 1.4 million bulk referrals from Incapacity Benefit)

Then I averaged these figures out as they were quarterly, into monthly averages for each quarter. It looks like this:

February-May 2010: 19,683
May-August 2010: 20,546
August-November 2010: 32,736
November-February 2010/11: 11,983
February-May 2011: ????

February-August 2011: 11,200

Now aside from the huge spike between August and November 2010, there appears to be a definite drop in the number of people that have left the Assessment Phase. It's possible a clerical error accounts for this and the August-November spike has 'borrowed' half of November-February's claimants but when held next to the figure from the FOI request it starts looking really suspicious. Less like cock-up and more like design. Why are Atos doing less assessments rather than more? I'm cautious about speculating here because Atos are paid per assessment. How much does Atos earn per assessment?

Well if we take those numbers from February-May 2010 all the way to November-February 2010/11 and add them up we get 253,950 but keep in mind that this figure includes an uncertain number of people who have not actually had a WCA. Atos are widely reported to receive £100 million per year from the WCA contract, divide this by 250,000 and it comes to them being paid £400 per assessment. That seems quite high, especially as I'm not sure even the DLA interviews cost the DWP that much (also done by Atos) and they are 3-4 hours long, not 20 minutes to an hour like WCAs usually are.

It seems obvious that the only way Atos can be making £100 million a year by hitting their assessment targets is if they are filling in forms wrong; saying one thing on the form to be used for statistical publication (which keeps the Assessment Phase group fattened so they can be assessed again) and then something else entirely on the forms that get them paid for the assessment. When the IB-ESA transition began their caseload and assessments should have gone up, as they were predicted to by the government. They probably have, but it isn't showing on paper because somewhere in the system outright fraud is being committed and still I can't get anyone else to look into why more than half of all ESA claimants are in the Assessment Phase. Instead the number of assessments on paper seem to have dropped massively.

Case File 6# finds that to get to the bottom of this requires information which is exempt from Freedom Of Information requests, specifically that which is commercially confidential: the actual number of WCAs administered by Atos, how much they are paid per assessment, why the inconsistent rate of assessments across quarterly periods, why they have apparently gone down rather than up in time just before and months after the IB-ESA transition began and also...

Why were the ERSA not stone-walled like virtually every charity and campaigner has been by the DWP under guise of 'commercial confidentiality'? Their FOI request technically failed, yet the DWP did so much to accommodate them that it actually gave them the best available figure to work with. Why is there one rule for special commercial interests like welfare to work providers and another one for everyone else? I will examine this in a further blog-post.


  1. I don't believe it but I've somehow managed to fudge the dates in the middle of the post. The data actually goes back to February 2010, not 2009. It's a simple mis-labelling error and the figures used aren't affected. Correcting now.

  2. Hi Digby CC here

    I'm trying to contact the Guardian poster ArecBalrin

  3. hi again the Peterloo campaign is pushing for a debate with the Guardian a debate about the political lurch to the right and I know you are actively concerned about this - are there any questions you'd like us to put to Alan Rusbridger

  4. This maybe of interesting,given that many commenters in threads deny any media influence -

  5. Having given some thought to it, I would like to know why government announcements are often reported word for word and when inaccurate these errors are not pointed out by the Guardian. The Guardian instead propagates what is said. That would be a small and simple question.

    A big and complicated one would be: Right-leaning newspapers spare no effort to highlight facts or aspects of something which reflect their partisan views. The Guardian does not even need to be partisan, it can simply highlight factual inaccuracies rather than regurgitating word for word what a minister or press release says.

    Much of the Guardian's apparent move to the Right seems to stem from omissions and a lack of responsiveness, rather than a pro-active and clear change of stances. Using the research from the URL Adrian posted; disability has become more political and is being mentioned more in the press, but most of it is negative. The Guardian hasn't stopped being a paper that addresses disability issues, rather it has not kept up with the large increase in negative disability coverage in other outlets. In fact, the Guardian's coverage of disability fell slightly. If the Guardian was not simply reporting on disability out of tokenism, then I would have expected and equal and proportionate increase in their coverage in line with what Right-leaning newspapers have done.

    As it is, UK newspaper coverage of disability has gone from being slightly unbalanced to heavily unbalanced. Why has the Guardian been so complacent?

  6. Is the above a reply to me? Just checking in case it's meant for the other commenter.

  7. Yes it's mainly intended for you Sir Digby.

  8. ah great :) meanwhile I think you shouldn't give up on CiF just yet - people are asking you to stay

  9. Digby, you asked on CiF but I will no longer be posting there if the Glasgow U research demonstrates that the Guardian is reporting on disability in line with a quota, or that it shows the Guardian has moved to the Right.

    My answer is no; that is my own conclusion. What the research does show is that disability reporting has increased in Right-wing newspapers quite substantially, mostly negative. It also finds that the Guardian has slightly reduced their disability coverage.

    I put these things together and find that if the Guardian has not increased their disability coverage, yet they have increased their reporting of the concerns disabled people have of government policies, then they have only been able to do this by reducing other disability reporting. That was surprising and for me the only explanation is that the Guardian reports on disability as tokenism.

    When an enemy is advancing and you are not advancing too, through inaction you are surrendering ground. The Right-wing media have had so much ground surrendered to them that this to me signifies a large shift to the Right by the Guardian. See my blog-post about Ed Miliband, who has behaved in a similar fashion.

  10. well if it's any comfort we do seem to be wringing concessions out of the editors that we've raised issues.

    I'll check out the post you've mentioned.

  11. Hi Arec

    I will miss your insightful & helpful posts on CiF.

    I can’t say I blame you, others are disenchanted by the Graun’s refusal to engage with us mere commenters.


  12. Hi Arec,
    Cifunderground would like to add a link to your blog onto our blogroll. Is that okay with you?

  13. I’ve taken the liberty of doing the same, from the UT.

  14. Many thanks Arec.
    I wish all the best for you and your good work.

  15. Arec

    you are your own man but I would ask you to reconsider your position and continue to post.

    Many who post here rely upon you to research and provide us with the figures which build the true picture. without your input we would be posting in thin air without the data to support our position.

    Appealing to the humanity of people - asking them to examine why they are willing to support the marginalisation of disabled people - without being able to counter their claims that disabled people are frauds and thieves by giving accurate figures allows them to constantly requote false figures and lies being pedalled by so many.

    They are two major problems Arec - one is the use of false figures being used to demonise disabled people as 'scroungers' and the other is the creeping inhumanity permeating and further infiltrating our society.


    Arec I posted the above on the current disability thread.

    i know you are not looking for praise but - it might surprise you to know just how much affection and admiration there is for you among many ciffers.

    Take care Arec, love Leni x

  16. Arec - I'd like to use the comments you've made here to make a post on c1nf - it gets a fair amount of traffic through the Peterloo campaign and I'd like to help you raise awareness of the issues you're fighting, I'm not asking you to join Peterloo but I think I can help you.


  17. Hi, Mason.

    Just to wish you the best. And I found a link for a site that sells Honey Rum: